Consultants' Notes, October 2017

Consultants’ Notes and Reflections
Campus Visit October 2017

Strategic Planning Puget Sound october 2017 (campus-only)

The Strategic Planning Steering Committee (SPSC) met for the second time the afternoon of October 25 for three-and-a-half hours.  Four different small-group conversations focused on different aspects of the articulation of the institution’s strategic position and strategic advantage. The issues around which specific questions were framed were: Institutional Strengths, Impact of External Factors, Diversity and Inclusion, and Market Research.  Appended to the end of these notes are the introductory commentaries and related questions for each of the four groups.  These same questions were used in the Friday morning Board of Trustees workshop.  From the SPSC discussion and from the Board of Trustees discussion, staff will prepare a preliminary expression of the Puget Sound strategic position and strategic advantage statement.  This draft document will be presented to the SPSC for its consideration at the November SPSC meeting.

The remainder of the SPSC October meeting was devoted to a review of a first draft statement of institutional vision, mission, and commitments. In the years since the previous strategic vision was originally articulated, the university has realized its ambition of being recognized as a national liberal arts institution.  That, and the overwhelming student-focus of the visioning exercises undertaken this year by the Puget Sound community, resulted in a major shift of focus for the strategic vision statement.  The draft presented to the SPSC reflected that shift to focus more on students in the articulation of the university’s vision.

The staff notes from the detailed discussion of the preliminary draft of commitments and mission, as well as vision, will be used to prepare for continued discussion at the SPSC November meeting.  The SPSC plans to produce a draft document and make it available to the entire Puget Sound community for comment. The process envisioned is iterative, meaning that community comments on the November draft will inform the SPSC’s consideration of further refinements.  Repeating that process of seeking community input may lead to still further edits before a final draft is considered ready to be forwarded for formal review and approval by the university’s board of trustees next fall.

To accord every individual who may wish to have input into the strategic planning process the opportunity to do so, the consultants held “open office hours” in the Piano Lounge of the Wheelock Student Center through the midday hours on Thursday, October 26. A steady stream of individual faculty members took advantage of the opportunity to meet one-on-one with the consultants. A second, more structured opportunity for input occurred later that afternoon in the Community Conversation.  This session began with an open Q&A period, then the consultants presented a briefing which focused on external factors and market research relating to the university’s primary market (full time, traditionally-aged, residential, undergraduate students) and its complementary secondary market (graduate professional students in what might be called the “helping professions” such as education and healthcare).  

The consultants participated in leading a workshop for the members of the university’s board of trustees during the morning of Friday, October 27.  As with the SPSC, the initial part of the workshop focused on the four small-group strategic positioning discussion topics. That was followed by a large-group brain-storming conversation about adaptive tuition-based and non-tuition-based entrepreneurial opportunities that Puget Sound might wish to consider exploring going forward.

The four discussion questions used by the Board of Trustees in this workshop and by the SPSC at its earlier meeting are on the following pages.

1. Institutional Strengths and Academic Programs
Puget Sound has many strengths including (1) the strong connections between students and faculty, (2) the sense of opportunity connoted by its location in the Pacific Northwest, (3) an emphasis on experiential learning, internships, and the educational potential of Tacoma, (4) a strengthening alumni network that could assist in leveraging employment and learning opportunities, (5) a beautiful residential campus, (6) a faculty committed to teaching and to building strong connections with students, and (7) an institutional commitment to the enduring value of a liberal education for all students.

Question 1A (two parts): 

Are Puget Sound’s identified strengths distinctive, relevant and/or special enough to continue to give it a competitive advantage in its primary academic market and educational mission: to provide an outstanding liberal education for traditionally aged students seeking a residential, small college experience? 

How do these strengths apply to Puget Sounds’ secondary academic market and educational mission: graduate professional programs?

Question 1B: 

For long-term strategic planning purposes, how might Puget Sound capitalize on the high levels of student involvement in career-related internships, and the interest of students in the university’s social sciences, natural sciences, pre-professional, and graduate professional programs in particular?


2. Impact of External Factors
Public attitudes toward higher education are changing, as noted articles posted on the strategic planning website and in the popular media. And there is increased competition from large universities in the Pacific Northwest that are marketing a small “college within a college” experience. Major new and effective higher education delivery systems are being introduced every year, e.g. online program providers, for-profit providers, corporation-specific contractual providers, and free or very low cost MOOCs (“massive open online courses”). In the near term virtual classroom providers and new delivery systems, e.g. an “” and a Phoenix U going all-in with online programs are foreseeable “disruptors” in the higher education marketplace.

Question 2A (two parts):

For purposes of long term strategic planning, is Puget Sound’s primary business model, which is to offer face-to-face education for a residential undergraduate student body, sustainable for the next ten years or more?

 Is that face-to-face model sustainable in the secondary market of graduate professional programs?

Question 2B:

For purposes of long term strategic planning, what augmentations, if any, to the set of curricular offerings or to its educational delivery strategy might best prepare Puget Sound for a major disruption in its graduate professional or its undergraduate competitive spaces?


3.  Diversity and Inclusion
Puget Sound has in place a strategic plan for diversity, and the university places a high value on increasing diversity and inclusion in enrollment, hiring, and as can be expressed in curricular offerings. There are some in the university community who express concern, however, that there is a disconnection between the way the university describes its commitment to diversity and inclusion vs. the extent of the progress the university has made on these goals so far. 

Question 3A:

How might this goal and these concerns best be addressed by the strategic planning process?

Question 3B:

What are the milestones and the objective indicators that will show that Puget Sound is making progress toward its goal of diversity and inclusion at an acceptable pace?


4. Market Research
Research indicates that undergraduate students who have been admitted at Puget Sound and admitted at one or more other institutions in the Pacific Northwest make their final decision to enroll (or not to enroll) at Puget Sound because they perceive that Puget Sound offers (or does not offer) the learning opportunities they are seeking.  Specifically, they elect to enroll in Puget Sound or in a competitor institution where they believe they will have the best opportunities for

  • hands-on learning and applied learning,
    study abroad or global education, and
    career-focused (pre-professional) programs. 

Question 4A:

How might market research about the actual criteria undergraduate students use in making their enrollment decisions best be used for purposes of long term strategic planning?

Question 4B:

What does market research relating to graduate professional students tell us about how students make their decisions to enroll and about what kinds of graduate professional programs offer the greatest strategic advantage for Puget Sound in the years ahead?


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